CMJ 2011 Wrap-Up

I think this was the 19th CMJ I have attended and though they don’t call it the Music Marathon anymore, it still feels like it. SXSW is like that too, shows all day and night, but when you live in NYC and you’re expected to do work too… you’re running on fumes by the end. There weren’t as many big names this year which turned out to be good. Most of the bands I saw were either entirely new to me, or I’d never seen them live before. Here’s a rundown.

Top Five CMJ Performances

1) Metronomy – Music Hall of Williamsburg (Thursday Night)

Not only was this the best show of CMJ, it was the best show of 2011 so far. Their first sell-out show in NYC (about 500 more people than when they played Union Hall in 2008), the crowd were going mental for the whole show. As they should: Metronomy make savvy dance pop with high levels of wit and skill and very little attitude. I left the club genuinely euphoric. What a show!

MP3: Metronomy – The Bay

Hollerado – Arlene’s Grocery (Friday Night)

If you miss the days big riff guitar pop, the kind that was all over alt-rock radio in the ’90s, Manotick, Ontario’s Hollerado are doing it with equal amounts of hooks and humor, both of which were on display at the M for Montreal showcase on Friday night. Arlene Grocery kept bands to a strict 25-minute set time via a countdown clock on a big flatscreen beside the soundboard. Hollerado treated it like an action movie, complete with special effects: confetti cannons went off every few moments. And the soundtrack: crank-it-up, top-down scorchers with choruses the size of Lake Ontario.

MP3: Hollerado – Juliette

Radical  Dads – Bruar Falls (Saturday Night)

Wild Flag’s show at Bowery Ballroom during CMJ was one of the fest’s toughest tickets. At about the same time over at Park Slope club The Rock Shop, locals Radical Dads were mining similar indie rock territory and I’d say they do it just as well though they’re a lot less hyped. The bloggeratti may not care, but this trio is one of Brooklyn’s best bands right now. Their set at Bruar Falls Saturday night was tight, energized and, though there are ’90s touchstones for sure, totally in the now. They were also bearers of good news: their debut album, Mega Rama, is getting a belated vinyl release in December. Have you seen the Awesome cover art? Also, new single out soon.

MP3: Radical Dads – New Age Dinosaur

4) Street Chant – Public Assembly + Bruar Falls (Saturday)

I wasn’t the only one watching Radical Dads with a giant smile on my face. Street Chant, who played right before, were up from and totally into it, man. Street Chant, three young New Zealanders, are fantastic in their own right — owing a little to their country’s indie rock past and making a lot of it up as they go along too. The songs are great, you can tell they love to play and their drummer is amazing. They were first band on at BrooklynVegan’s day show, a tough slot when few are there, but they did just fine and there was good crowd by the time they finished. The Bruar Falls set was better as people were awake, maybe a little (but not too) buzzed, and ready to hear some music.

MP3: Street Chant – Scream Walk 

5) Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Cameo Gallery (Saturday)

In a world of increasingly awful band names, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosuars is knowingly ridiculous. But the dance music Orlando Higgenbottom makes  is sublime, even while wearing a stegosaurus costume as he did late Saturday night, the last performance I saw at CMJ. Cameo was so packed there wasn’t much room to dance, so the audience just sort of bobbed up and down. Sometimes you just gotta make do.

MP3: Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Garden

And some other stuff I saw after the jump:

Best pipes: Purity Ring

This thing was some sort of drum machine trigger, it didn’t make “pipe” noises. Still, Bjork would be jealous.

Best use of “People Are People”: Cities Aviv

I actually saw a fair amount of hip hop (for me) this year. Memphis’ Cities Aviv was by far the most compelling performer, even if he spent too much time complaining about bloggers calling him chillwave. Points for sampling Depeche Mode.

Best in Black: Chelsea Wolfe

No, she doesn’t sound like Zola Jesus. I could do without the overtly goth garb, but she means it and sells it 100%.

Best Band Kim Fowley Probably Thinks Owe Him Royalties: Bleached

With feathered hair and vintage tees, this Mika Miko offshoot is straight out of 1979 but they do it well and the harmonies are strong.

Best Light Show: Miracle Fortress

Though he has a drummer now, Graham Van Pelt is keeping Miracle Fortress pretty minimal, except for an minimal but intense lightshow, including tiny little pixels projected from behind that made him look like he was being digitized onstage.

Best Argument Against a Drummer: Xeno & Oaklander

I saw a lot of laptop bands this year and my reaction was almost always the same: get a drummer, you’re boring. Not in the case of retro-futurists Xeno & Oaklander who make electronic music entirely with vintage gear. It was all being done live on stage and watching them perform is a wonder of frantic knob-twiddling, button-pushing and cord-plugging.

Best Insanity: Peelander-Z

Before the first song was over, the bassist had jumped on the bar, lept off and crowd-surfed back to the stage. I’ve seen P-Z a few times, it’s always crazy and I never remember what they sound like besides yelling.

Best Band with a Bad Name: Tropical Popsicle

San Diego bands like Spacemen 3 (see also Crocodiles and The Soft Pack). Tropical Popsicle make psychedelic pop a la BJM or JAMC and kept things entertaining with a homemade lightshow and plenty of reverb. Horrible name, though.


  1. This is especially true now that Nathan Michael has switched from drums to guitar who brings a little music school skronk to the band which tempers out some of the band’s more delicate leanings.

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